Interview with Geri Jewell


If you’re of a certain age, or just an aficionado of classic ’80s television, then you know Blair, Jo, Natalie and Tootie aren’t AfterEllen’s newest bloggers. We wish. They are, of course, the girls from The Facts of LifeThe Facts of Life. (I’m physically unable to say the title just once. Damn you, catchy theme song!)

The ’80s were a very good decade for all-female ensemble sitcoms. The Golden Girls and Designing Women both ran for seven hilarious seasons. And The Facts of Life lasted an unbelievable nine. Nine years for a show starring only young women. Take that, Remington Steele.

During its run, the cast of Facts included Cloris Leachman, Molly Ringwald, Jami Gertz, and some dude named George Clooney. Then, television history was made when Geri Jewell was added to the cast as Blair’s cousin, also named Geri. “Cousin Geri” marked the first time an actor with cerebral palsy was featured on a TV series.

Jewell went on to appear in the HBO series, Deadwood, hone her stand-up comedy act, come out as a lesbian, and just recently published her second autobiography.

In person, Jewell is engaging, candid and a great storyteller. We met recently to talk about her new book, revisit all those Jo/Blair lesbian rumors, and discuss how she’s very OK doing frontal nudity. Why did you want to write your autobiography again?

Geri Jewell: I had an autobiography [with ghostwriter, Stuart Weiner] in 1984 called Geri. And it wasn’t a bad book, don’t get me wrong. It was just very, very premature. I hadn’t lived yet. When I got Facts of Life, even though I was chronologically 23 years old, I would say emotionally, I was 13. I became an instant icon for people with disabilities, but emotionally, I was a child. And sexually, I hadn’t decided what I was.

This new book deals with the Hollywood stuff that Geri didn’t even touch: I had so much drama around me, I was struggling with my sexuality, my manager was arrested for $1.3 million embezzlement and security fraud, and people were lying to me from left to right. I was so sheltered and in special ed for most of my childhood. I had no understanding that some people can look at you straight in the face and lie.

But I think that had I not gone through all that, I wouldn’t be here today having this conversation with you. If I never hit rock bottom, I would have been so spoiled and so superficial. I look at all of my obstacles and ordeals [and know] I went through them because I had to. I was supposed to come into this life and deal with them.

AE: So, you believe everything happens for a reason?

GJ: Absolutely. No question in my mind. I believe that cerebral palsy was intentional.

AE: Really?

GJ: Oh yeah. Absolutely. The CP in itself has been the greatest blessing in my life. I don’t look at cerebral palsy as a negative or a positive. I look at cerebral palsy as a neutral. It’s part of the human condition. We all have adversity so we can grow and evolve and learn. And CP, for me, has been a tremendous teacher in prejudice, discrimination and–

AE: What? Being a gay woman didn’t teach you any of that?
GJ: [laughs]

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